The best thing I can say about Metro Exodus, to anybody unfamiliar with its place in a trilogy of post-nuclear, first-person monster combat games, is that this is the best Eurojank game I’ve ever seen.
“Eurojank” is an unofficial term for that class of sprawling, verbose, and oftentimes glitchy action/RPG titles originating from Eastern European nations like Russia, Poland, and the Ukraine. (At the top of that heap is The Witcher 3, whose previous two games were decidedly less even; more recent examples include Elex, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and The Technomancer.) And rarely do these games hold players’ hands, usually because they lack tutorials or because of unclear GUI elements.
Metro Exodus, like the two Metro games that 4A Studios made before it, has all of those qualities in spades—though it’s definitely the most accessible Eurojank shooter I’ve come across. And yes, calling this the “most accessible Eurojank shooter” is like calling Taco Bell the “most flavorful national Mexican chain restaurant.” But its strides toward accessibility are important, because this is a game of high highs and so-so lows. You’ll need to slog through some obvious imperfections. Do that, however, and you’re in for the kind of player- and challenge-respecting solo experience that people say they’re always dreaming about in comment threads about always-online games.
Plus, in this game’s case, there’s a particular beauty in store for anybody who ponied up for one of Nvidia’s new RTX-series graphics cards. As a result, I spent my review period focusing quite a bit on the RTX experience and came away mostly impressed. What kind of game makes you okay with trading frames for ray tracing boosts? A game like Metro Exodus, that’s what.
Winter, spring, summer, and fall
For anybody who skipped or doesn’t remember the previous Metro games—based on the books of Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky—Exodus starts out with a lengthy pre-rendered sequence that sums up the Metro universe in ridiculously tidy fashion. A nuclear apocalypse has forced Russia’s citizens into an underground network, where they’ve built their lives anew, only to face two equally deadly forces: supernatural monsters and political friction.
Now, silent protagonist Artyom has begun putting more muscle into a personal quest: to find signs of life elsewhere on Earth. To do this, he disobeys direct orders, goes topside, and—sure enough—finds more than he or his comrades had ever expected.
What follows, as has been revealed in hands-on previews of the game, is a significant change of pace for the series. The prior games’ underground focus meant that its combat-loaded levels were decidedly linear affairs, albeit ones with satisfying firepower and decent stealth-path options. Metro Exodus still has a linear thrust, but it also gives players a massive canvas of outdoor spaces, which appear in each of the game’s “seasons.”
When a new chapter begins, you’ll usually land in a massive, architecture-filled instance that can be traversed however you please. Instead of using invisible walls or artificial barriers, Exodus makes its open-sky zones some of the most dangerous ones in the game. You can get from point A to pretty much anywhere in a given zone, whether on foot or with optional transportation (like a rowboat in the first “winter” zone). But once you’re outside the demarcated paths, the worst monsters—big, hulking, hairy beasts with terrifying snarls—are more likely to be on the prowl and run in packs and see you in the open-air valleys that separate you from an intriguing tower or power facility.
The result is a lovely risk-reward equation to manage as an open-world gamer. Is an optional run to an interesting-looking building worth the trouble? Will you pick up a killer new weapon attachment or a boatload of crafting supplies, and will the amount of ammo and health packs you burn through be worth it? 4A Games pushes the needle on this adventuring quality by doing a pretty remarkable thing in open-world games: keeping its 3D architecture diverse and interesting, while managing some clever content copy-and-pasting across giant ecosystems. (Also, you won’t face a single loading screen when you’re in a particular zone.)
Anybody who disliked Fallout 4‘s generic landscapes as much as I did will be delighted by the environmental post-nuclear storytelling and discovery opportunities that Exodus contains. Every harrowing run in this game has something to peel back and savor.
Exodus is also careful to keep some of the game’s basics manageable amid the challenging parts. Crafting and “cleaning” add some complication and flavor to weapon upkeep, but these systems revolve around a simple item currency. A clunky map can be accessed on your character’s wrist, thus filling the screen, but you also get a nifty compass to check in a pinch. And most of the game’s UI is relegated to an indicator on your guns and wrist, but you can always tap a button for a quick flash of all-important numbers for ammo and inventory.
Issues with AI, on-boarding, and dialogue
But it’s not all roses on Exodus‘ journey into the apocalypse.
The first issue—and it’s a big one—is the AI. As of press time, there’s still something weird going on with human enemies’ responses to your presence. This typically errs more on the side of “why doesn’t that guy see me,” as opposed to “how did that guy see me through a wall.” Some of the game’s epic firefights and stealth missions are made easier by shooting your gun into the air, thus triggering your foes’ wonky searching AI.
Sometimes, they’ll come right toward you for easy kills (aided by the game’s generous and silent throwing knife weapon, which can be tossed and then retrieved from a corpse for constant reuse in a game with limited ammo). Sometimes, they’ll glitch-walk off a building’s edge and hover in a way that stops them from accurately targeting you. Sometimes, they shout “I see him!” while facing in the opposite direction and standing still, so you can take your sweet time and line up a killing blow.
It’s not all bad. The game’s monsters are a bit less prone to this stupidity, which solidifies their importance as an open-world “police” force of sorts. And don’t count on that “shoot in the air” gimmick to work in many of the firefights. In some of the best missions and moments, there’s no getting around the use of stealth, flanking, or other smart combat, and thank goodness. But there’s enough AI wonkiness to mute the sense that Metro Exodus must be played a certain way to overcome its daunting difficulty. And I find Exodus is more fun when played in that “oh crap oh crap oh crap” mode.
Next up on the negatives list is the game’s rough on-boarding and introduction to how the Metro universe works. If you don’t dig through help menus, which themselves are a bit thin, you’ll never get an explanation about occasionally required gas masks or about what on-screen button prompts mean when a new weapon appears on the ground. In some cases, a single tooltip appears for a new in-game system and then vanishes forever if you miss it. In my case, I still have no in-game answer to exactly how to “mark” distant objects when I see them through a pair of binoculars—and that’s no small thing for a game that asks players to search far and wide across massive landscapes.
The same issue goes for the game’s health system, which indicates player damage by making the screen’s border redder and redder and adds heavy breathing. At what point am I a single hit away from death? Does a health kit fully heal my character? And if my gas mask runs out of air tanks, how long can I survive before Artyom chokes? This is all a bit unclear.
Last up is the plot, which isn’t bad as much as it is uneven and verbose. Metro series fans already know what they’re in for: the plot is primarily doled out in “stay awhile and listen” stretches of expository dialogue. These emerge primarily when you’re back at your home base and chatting with fellow soldiers, but they also come up when you happen upon a non-violent NPC in one of the game’s massive zones and they start yapping and yapping.
Do you like a game whose combat and discovery mechanics are entirely divorced from stop-and-wait delivery of lengthy, meandering dialogue, always spoken by over-eager actors with thick Eastern European accents? If so, you’re in for some genuinely likable moments of character development; they’re just firmly nestled in the kinds of overlong stories that might have you saying “get on with it, man” after a while. The spoilable plot beats, on the other hand, feel like fine B-movie cheese. Sometimes, these are full of scare-quote “important” messages freighted with fromage. (And sometimes filled with comically intense evil, too.)